Aso oke strip weave “lace” woman’s shawl, ipele, Yoruba peoples, Nigeria, circa 1900.
Rare nineteenth century shawl woven from extremely fine white hand spun cotton with blocks of openwork and supplementary weft float patterning. The patterning is woven from imported knitting wool rather than the magenta trans Saharan silk we would expect. This style of luxury shawl was fashionable in Lagos during the later decades of the nineteenth century. This cloth has a small patch repair, a few small marks, and wear apparent on the floating weft but is complete, retaining its original hand sewn seams and hems throughout.
Measurement: 78 inches x 42 inches, 198 cm x 108 cm
Other early shawls of related types that we have collected are now in the collections of the British Museum, Musee du Quai Branly, Paris and the Worldmuseum, Vienna. For another related shawl in the late C19th Beving collection in the British Museum see Af1934,0307.127. A shawl in the MFA Boston (here) is described as a “wedding shawl” and named as “popofi” -however ofi in Yoruba just means loom and popofi is a word once used for any time of cloth woven on a local loom as opposed to imported fabric rather than a specific name for this cloth. Whilst it is entirely possible that these shawls were worn at weddings there is no ethnographic evidence that this was the case and it is safer to note that they were high status shawls , based on the superb quality of the weaving and the expensive silk fibers used rather than to posit a more specific use. We can however provide visual evidence of a secondary use as part of masquerade costumes.
Eyo or Adamorisha, is the signature masquerade performance of Lagos island, still enacted as an annual festival event. Today the performers wear imported white lace robes and veils but images from the early colonial era show a combination of agbada gowns in various colours with locally woven openwork aso oke cloths similar to that above. We can imagine the performers borrowing women’s shawls from wives or mothers for this purpose, and that their participation in the spiritually charged performance added an additional layer of meaning to the textiles.
All items on this site are vintage. That means that they may have a few small marks or blemishes consistent with use. We will try to highlight any significant issues in the description above but in the event you are not happy with your purchase please notify us within 48 hours of receipt and you may return it for a full refund (excluding return shipping costs.)